MIT Physics Professor Emeritus Aron Bernstein kicked off a four-part lecture series called “Nuclear Weapons: Physics, History, and Abolition?” with a look at the history surrounding the development and deployment of the weapons. Here are some facts he presented that you may not be aware of.

1—Five years before nuclear fission (the energy-producer for nuclear power and weapons) was actually discovered, physicist Leó Szilárd conceived of the idea of the nuclear chain reaction that could release this energy and patented the concept and the yet-to-be-created nuclear reactor.

2—One of the reasons the U.S. succeeded in creating the atomic bomb and Germany did not is because physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project’s director of scientific research, gathered scientists from a wide range of fields in addition to physicists, including metallurgists to discover how to produce, purify, and use plutonium.

3—Scientists at three of the Manhattan Project’s major research sites, independent of one another, came to the unanimous conclusion—and vehemently advocated—that the atomic bomb should be used as a demonstration only, not on civilians, since there was no defense of such a weapon.

4—The first resolution of the United Nations, in January 1946, was to eliminate nuclear weapons.

5—The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) between the U.S. and Russia, which limits the number of nuclear warheads the two countries can deploy to 6,000 atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers, expires December 5, 2009. Many in the arms community are hoping that number will drop to 1,000 under President Obama’s leadership.

For more information, read “Nuclear Disarmament Activities at MIT: Rising from the Ashes,” an article for MIT’s Faculty Newsletter penned by MIT professors Aron Bernstein and Heather Lechtman and researcher Kosta Tsipis.